What to Look Out for if You Suspect Your Child Was Abused

August 4, 2017

When your child leaves the home for daycare, school, foster care, or other out-of-home settings, you trust others with his or her wellbeing. Unfortunately, not every caregiver is trustworthy. Violent and criminal perpetrators may hurt your child physically, mentally, or sexually. Child abuse out of the home is a difficult reality to face, but doing so as soon as possible can save your child from serious harm. Watch for these signs to confirm or deny your suspicions about child abuse.

Physical Signs

The most obvious signs of child abuse are physical marks. Check your child for strange or unexplained injuries, such as bruising patterns or hand-shaped marks. Burns and cuts are also signs of potential abuse. Signs of sexual abuse include bloody underwear, a sexually transmitted disease, trouble walking/sitting, genital pain, and pregnancy.

Look for injuries such as fractures or bruises that don’t match what the caregiver says happened. For example, if a daycare worker says your child tripped and fell but your child has injuries consistent with someone yanking his or her arm instead, this is a red flag for abuse. A caregiver, such as a foster family, failing to give your child medical or dental treatment is another form of abuse.

Emotional or Mental Signs of Abuse

Child abuse commonly does not leave behind physical scars but instead harms the child mentally, emotionally, or psychologically. These signs can be more difficult to spot. Attentiveness as a parent is key. Watch for sudden or unexplained feelings in your child, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, or shame. Sexual abuse is most likely to result in feelings of shame, as the victim will often blame him/herself for what happened. Other emotional signs include:

  • Delayed emotional development
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of previously acquired skills
  • Inappropriate emotions for the situation
  • Unusual fears

Suicide attempts are major red flags for child abuse. If your child is so depressed or emotionally distraught as to threaten or attempt suicide, there may be a serious case of physical, mental, or sexual abuse on your hands. Any strange or inexplicable changes in your child’s emotional state may point to abuse.

Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes are common signs of child abuse. If your child suddenly withdraws from favorite activities, such as sports or after-school programs, it may be a sign that he or she is afraid to go for fear of facing further abuse. Aggression, hostility, anger, or hyperactivity out of nowhere can also point to a child struggling with abuse. Other behavioral signs include:

  • Loss of interest or enthusiasm
  • Drop in school performance
  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Reluctance to go to school, ride the bus, or do other activities
  • Rebellion or defiance
  • Attempts at running away
  • Headaches/stomach aches with no medical cause
  • Desperate attempts at affection

Also watch for sudden knowledge of adult sexual behaviors or actions, such as setting up toys in sexual ways or using words your child shouldn’t know at his or her age. These are signs of potential sexual abuse.

Abuse is a terrible reality that some children face. Protect your child from abuse and seek justice by identifying signs as early as possible.